Monday, October 19, 2009

Is all dry aged the same??

On Monday a few of the meat room crew, Chef Elia, Steven and Kevin, went down to NYC to check out some meat shops. First we stopped at the premier meat distributor Debragga and Spitler in the old meat district on Washington Street. Upon arrival I took them up to the elevated rail/park that sits above the street. This was how all meat was brought into Manhatten in the hayday of the market district. There are still some old rails showing how the meats were loaded off rail cars straight into coolers. Gravity was used to move all the meats down during processing to the street level. It is an amazing park and it is nice to see the bit of meat history preserved.

Back in the day all beef was sent to New York as whole sides. There was no vacuum bag and it took a few days to get it from slaughter to the market, then it would sit a few more days in warehouses and maybe again at the local butcher. It was often 10 - 15 days old by the time the customer put it on the grill. It was well on its way to being dry aged. Today almost all meat is sent in bags and is wet aged.

So what is the difference? Dry aged is much more concentrated in flavor. Moisture evaporates about 13- 15 % leaving a fuller flavor. But there is more to it. When beef is aged a certain flora is created. Molds that are unique to a meat locker develop on the outside like those of a fine Salami.

We met Marc Sarrazin at around 9:30 after some introductions and small talk we started our tour of Debragga. Marc is a meat purveyor supreme. As we walk through a large cooler full of dry aging beef he explains his processes for creating some of truly the finest beef in the world! I have seen a lot of quality beef over my years buying beef with my father in the old markets that are now mostly gone from lower Manhatten, but Marc has the knack for exceeding the old traditions of the past. Between the newer genetics bred into today's beef and the old coolers that have just the right environment and flora the beef is better than ever.

We have been getting some dry aged at the school lately from a different purveyor but it doesn't have the same tangy "prosciutto" undertone flavor. It is good, but not great. Not all dry aged is created equal!

After touring the dry aging room we took a look at the boxed beef in another cooler. Kevin's classic line was "This is the Fort Knox of meat coolers!" with box upon box of assorted Wagyu and specialty niche market beef and Kurobuta Berkshire pork. Take a look at the extreme marbling and quality of these products. A true treat for all of us who talk about quality each day in class.

After our tour we enjoyed a superior lunch at Rothman's Steakhouse in mid-town. Marc brought along a couple of wagyu steaks, one domestic and one Japanese which we had as an appetizer. Rothman's is a true steak lover dream and sells some fine dry aged beef.

We left Marc, who graciously picked up the tab, and ventured to Eli's Vinegar Factory on York ave. We met Billy Angelletti, the head butcher, who came up to the school and did a demo for my class a few months ago. Billy gave us a tour of the entire facility including the greenhouses on the roof. The meats were extreme quality again with lots of dry aged beef, quality lamb and veal, homemade sausages and Berkshire pork. The clientele of this and Eli's other store are willing to pay for quality and they never do "sales". Thanks to Billy for the great tour.

We decided to walk over to another premier dry aged butcher shop, Lobels on Madison Ave. Along the way we stopped in Ottomanelli Bros which is another small but very good quality shop. They keep the tradition of sawdust on the floor. This shop should not be confused with the Ottomanelli and Sons shop on Bleecker St in lower Manhatten.

We also found a small Hungarian Deli that had homemade Keilbasa, Paprika Spec and dry spicy sausages. When I asked the woman behind the counter if she made the salami she gave me a look and said " husband makes it." I waited until we got home and ate the Keilbasa with my son. It was good quality. We also bought some headcheese but that was a little too mild.

When we finally reached our final destination and talked with Mark Lobel about the school and business. Lobels is a very unique place with all sorts of businesses rolled into one. They have very succesfully published some great books on meat, they have a super mailorder/internet delivery and now the have NY Steaks set up in the new Yankee Stadium. Mark invited us to visit that location sometime during next year's baseball season.

As time began to run out we headed out of town before the traffic got too bad. I wanted to visit the meat markets in Grand Central Station and the forementioned Ottomanelli and Sons. Saved for another day I guess.

This trip was a joy with my colleagues. It was a pleasure to show them some of the history and quality that exists just two hours from the school. If you have any free time take the train down and visit some markets!